20 December 2021
US Ambassador Judith Garber discusses the progress that continues to be made in various areas of the longstanding bilateral relationship between the United States and Cyprus, the growing empowerment of women, her impressions of the island and what she hopes her personal legacy will be.
The USA has had diplomatic relations with Cyprus since the Republic of Cyprus was first established in 1960. How has this relationship grown and strengthened over the years?
The current Cyprus-United States relationship is the strongest it has been in our 60-plus years of working together and it continues to deepen, broaden and grow. Cyprus has developed rapidly since its independence in 1960 and is now a valued bilateral partner, as part of the European Union and as a partner in regional security and stability. Just in the last year, I have seen tremendous progress in our relationship. For the first time, we sent members of the Cyprus National Guard to the United States to study at American military profession education schools, funded by the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme. We announced the waiver of some defence trade restrictions last summer, allowing the purchase of non-lethal equipment to help protect the people of this island against transnational threats and to strengthen our security and commercial ties.
In the economic and commercial arena, we are proud that two of our leading energy companies continue to invest in Cyprus as partners in the development of its natural gas resources. The US investment management firm PIMCO has made major new investments in the Cypriot financial sector, while US companies are increasingly pursuing – and winning – projects here in Cyprus in areas ranging from traffic cameras to spectrum monitoring. These deals are the foundation on which future, more ambitious business investments are made.
We have also seen a significant increase in the number of young Cypriot students applying to American universities and colleges. In 2021, Cypriots earned more than $3 million in scholarships to US colleges and universities. These scholars represent some of our best investments in growing mutual respect, understanding and appreciation for one another.
President Biden has long expressed his own and US support for a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus Problem. How important is it, in your opinion, for Cyprus to be reunited? In your experience here until now, do you believe that a lasting solution is still possible?
We strongly support the efforts facilitated by the United Nations to resume formal negotiations for settling the Cyprus Problem. The Biden administration is committed to supporting a Cypriot-led, UN-facilitated effort to reunify Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation. President Biden remains convinced not only that a solution is possible but that a reunited island would benefit all Cypriots and the wider region.
Do you believe that trade relations between the two countries are satisfactory or is this something you are working on to improve?
Trade relations between the United States and Cyprus are strong and I expect to see them grow stronger. The US embassy has continued our collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enhance US-Cyprus bilateral economic ties. Together with other stakeholders from the Government and the business community, we have drafted an Integrated Strategy Action Plan to further our bilateral economic ties. Thanks to everyone’s contribution, we are ready to begin implementing that plan, pursuing specific actions in sectors with the greatest potential. With a clearly defined shared vision and common goals, we are better able to work together in Nicosia and Washington to continue to improve, deepen and broaden our bilateral relationship.
The USA has also played a significant role in the recent approval of a global corporate tax rate. Can you comment further on this?
As President Biden said when announcing the agreement, the global minimum tax rate means that “multinational corporations will no longer be able to pit countries against one another in a bid to push tax rates down and protect their profits at the expense of public revenue. They will no longer be able to avoid paying their fair share by hiding profits in lower-tax jurisdictions.” The result will be a more transparent public revenue stream to address the needs of middle-class citizens, as the United States, Cyprus and others seek to rebuild in a post-pandemic world.
Is the US satisfied by the progress made by the Cypriot authorities on anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer (KYC) issues or there are still loopholes?
As the global economy restarts, Cyprus and the United States must continue to place our shared values of transparency, accountability, appropriate risk management and zero tolerance for facilitating illicit financial flows at the forefront. The Council of Europe’s MONEYVAL mutual evaluation report in early 2020 gave the Republic of Cyprus well-deserved credit for its hard work in managing money laundering and terrorist finance risk. It also highlighted several areas for improvement, including an over-reliance on self-monitoring and reporting by the banking sector for anti-money laundering compliance, and risks from the Cyprus Investment Programme. The United States applauds the steps taken to address MONEYVAL’s concerns. However, as we all work together to ensure that the global economy restarts in the right way, there are other steps that we strongly urge the Republic of Cyprus to take as quickly as possible, such as passing and implementing long-stalled counter-corruption reforms, embracing the latest EU Directives on anti-money laundering, and publishing the ultimate beneficial owner registry.
Kamala Harris this year became the first woman to serve as Vice President of the United States, and the Biden administration has chosen a record number of women for Cabinet and other high positions. Also, some of the most prominent women on the political scene are women of colour, for example Ms. Harris and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress. As a woman in politics, what significance do you place on these developments?
The fact that we see more women, and more women of colour, in prominent roles in the United States highlights how we have made enormous progress in valuing all women’s contributions. But there is still more to do. This diversity makes us stronger. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has emphasised his commitment to expanding the number of women working in diplomacy, peace, and security. The United States was the first country in the world with a comprehensive law on Women, Peace, and Security, passed in 2017. This law requires that US strategy includes implementation plans for the State Department and other departments to increase women’s meaningful participation in decision-making processes, increase safety for women and girls and their access to government programmes, and improve and institutionalise women’s empowerment. I am excited by what has been achieved over the course of my career and optimistic about the future but I am also clear-eyed. Challenges remain.
What are your impressions of life in Cyprus? Have you had the opportunity to visit many of the island’s attractions? What are some of your favourite things about living and working here?
It is an honour and a privilege to serve as the United States Ambassador to Cyprus. While COVID-19 has made travel more difficult than I anticipated when I first arrived, I have nonetheless been able to see and enjoy so much of the magic of this island: spectacular beaches, beautiful mountain villages, vibrant cities, delicious food, and most of all, the warm hospitality of the Cypriot people.
What would you like your legacy to be when the time comes to leave diplomacy?
Over my career, I have had the privilege to serve in a variety of countries around the world. I’ve worked on diverse issues, from supporting nascent democracies and defending human rights to protecting the environment and promoting economic growth and prosperity for Americans and the citizens of the countries in which I’ve served. I have always striven to strengthen the Foreign Service as an institution and support the next generation of US diplomats, particularly women diplomats and those that work on what we call economic issues. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I hope my legacy will be that I made a positive difference in partnership with others along the way.